In the toned “Empire,” Cedars elevate their sound to a level that was only teased at in previous releases while staying true to the aesthetic that brought them out of the woodwork and into the underground spotlight some three years ago. Sandeigh Kennedy’s rock syndicate is sounding tighter than they ever have in the past here, abandoning hesitations that had perhaps hindered their melodies from being the larger-than-life elements they are in this single and finding new and exciting ways to put together harmonies that aren’t as easy to categorize by normal genre parameters as they are to become addicted to. Cedars holds nothing back from us in “Empire,” and that’s more than I can say for a lot of their closest rivals this summer. The framework of this track is very experimental, but the beat that the percussion churns out is pretty conventional and steady.
There’s no outrageous breakaway from the rhythm that we start with, but there’s a slight shift toward the urgent as we move into the final chorus of the song. I like that the drums are as prominent in the mix as any of the melodic components are, but more importantly than that, nothing is getting between us and their sly grooves. If it’s zero-filler alternative music that drives you wild, “Empire” and the studio session it was cut from should be considered required listening when assembling a list of midyear recordings that deserve a second look.
“Empire” has a string centerpiece that stands out among even the most potently conceived, guitar-powered compositions that I’ve had the chance to analyze in 2023, but it isn’t so intense a focus that it dwarfs the other melodic facets in the master mix – the exact opposite. By making the strings the bedrock beneath the lyrical strike at the top of the track, there’s as much for us to appreciate in the instrumental half of the harmony as there is in the vocal itself.
This is a single defined by its dualities, and in an era that has afforded us a lot of one-note rock songs not even slightly as engaging as this track is, it’s all the more a special treat. I’ll admit that I wasn’t as impressed with Cedars in past listens as I was with this one, but there’s just no getting around how awesome the direction they’re taking their sound in is with “Empire.” There’s something here for audiences of all tastes in backgrounds – shades of hard rock are crossed with fundamental pop standards, traditional rock n’ roll wit, and a classically-influenced integrity of songcraft that is all too uncommon to find nowadays. It’s a colorful cocktail that is almost guaranteed to leave you as intoxicated as you are inspired by the message behind the narrative in its lyrics, and for those who have been hoping to hear Cedars at their full potential, this just might be as close as one could get without actually seeing them live in terms of the ferocity of what they’re producing here.
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